Reclaiming the Church: Where the Mainline Church went wrong and what to do about it

John Cobb, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997

Reviewed in Sea of Faith New Zealand Newsletter 25 by Lloyd Geering

For many years John Cobb has taught at the Graduate School of Theology at Claremont, Los Angeles and is a leading exponent of process theology. He continues to identify with the Methodist Church but describes himself as a troubled member of that mainline church, which he says must now be called the oldline church, as a result of which it is fast becoming the sideline church.

After diagnosing the spiritual sickness of the church as a condition of lukewarmness and lack of conviction he looks for the reasons which have caused it. He describes two proposals for responding to it: renewal and transformation. He believes both are necessary but favours the second.

He finds, however, that "the church has lost the ability to think. Unless it recognises its healthy survival depends on the recovery and exercise of that ability and acts on that recognition, talk of either renewal or transformation is idle".

It is good to see such a responsible and well known scholar turning attention to the problem facing the church; and when one remembers that the decline in church attendance in USA is not yet nearly so great as it is in New Zealand, this is even more remarkable.

On the other hand, this fact may prevent Cobb from seeing that his diagnosis of cultural changes may not have gone deep enough and his suggestions may not yet be radical enough. This booklet of 110 pages should be seen as a working paper which raises the issues to be discussed rather than as a blueprint of the answers. It is a tragedy that in New Zealand, where the predicament of the churches is probably worse than that in the USA, church leaders do not even get as far as Cobb in acknowledging the situation.

Lloyd Geering